From the Kansas Department of Agriculture via The High Plains Journal:
The Governors and Attorneys General of Kansas and Colorado announced that they recently reached a settlement of claims regarding Colorado’s past use of water under the Republican River Compact. The Compact allocates the waters of the basins between the states of Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas.
“This settlement is an investment in the basin to ensure a better future for Kansas water users.” said Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer. “Kansas and Colorado are committed to continuing to make the Compact work for the benefit of the citizens of our states, and this settlement recognizes the ties that bind our states together and is an important step for the economic development of the region.”
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt also expressed his approval. “The Kansas water team at the Department of Agriculture and our legal team at the Attorney General’s office have done an outstanding job of resolving years of past disputes without litigation,” Schmidt said. “This settlement going forward promises a more cooperative approach to what really matters—the best possible management of the water resources in the basin’s South Fork on both sides of the state line.”
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper agreed that “This settlement provides funds that could be used in the Republican River Basin within Kansas and Colorado and creates additional opportunities for cooperative water management between the States.”
Colorado Attorney General Cynthia H. Coffman also expressed her approval, saying the agreement “avoids the costs and uncertainty of litigation and furthers the principles of the Compact, including removing controversy and fostering interstate cooperation.”
The agreement resolves the existing controversies between the two states regarding Colorado’s past use of water under the Republican River Compact and allows them to continue to work collaboratively through the compact as part of an overall ongoing effort which also involves the state of Nebraska.
The settlement was signed by the governors and attorneys general of both states. A copy of the settlement is available at http://agriculture.ks.gov/RRCA.
From the University of Denver Water Law Review (Jeremy Frankel):
The grain-growing region in the High Plains of America—known as America’s breadbasket—relies entirely on the Ogallala Aquifer. But long term unsustainable use of the aquifer is forcing states in the region to face the prospect of a regional economic disaster. As the High Plains states reach the verge of a major crisis, the states have taken different approaches to conservation with varying results.
The Ogallala Aquifer supports an astounding one-sixth of the world’s grain produce, and it has long been an essential component of American agriculture. The High Plains region—where the aquifer lies—relies on the aquifer for residential and industrial uses, but the aquifer’s water is used primarily for agricultural irrigation. The agricultural demands for Ogallala water in the region are immense, with the aquifer ultimately being responsible for thirty percent of all irrigation in the United States. The Ogallala Aquifer has long been unable to keep up with these agricultural demands, as the aquifer recharges far slower than water is withdrawn.
Aside from the obvious agricultural ramifications from the Ogallala’s depletion, recent studies have shown that groundwater depletion also has a severe effect on freshwater ecosystems in the region. Each state has had to confront the issue in their own way, but the depletion of the aquifer has become severe enough to warrant the attention of the federal government as well. At the state level, the focus has been on maintaining an orderly depletion of the aquifer rather than developing a plan for sustainable use. However, some states have achieved some level of success in slowing down the aquifer’s depletion. Kansas, for example, has recently achieved mild success by adopting a program that put conservation in the hands of the State’s farmers. On the other hand, Nebraska has seen more success than Kansas by being tougher on farmers and exercising its enforcement powers. The federal government has also set up financial and technical assistance for farmers who commit to conservation and is funding large-scale pipeline projects to bring in water to the more desperate areas of the High Plains.
When early explorers Zebulon Pike and Francisco de Coronado came upon the High Plains, they described it as a desert — an impossible region to farm.
Irrigation changed that. It allowed residents to pull water from the Ogallala Aquifer, and grow crops nearly anywhere. The first irrigation wells in Kansas were drilled east of Garden City in 1908.
The Ogallala is a massive, underground sponge, spanning from South Dakota and Wyoming, down through the High Plains to west Texas and New Mexico. Over 27,000 of the total 35,000 wells with active water rights in Kansas overlie the Ogallala, with 87 percent used for irrigation.
But decades of pumping water out, with little return, has taken its toll.
After 110 years of drilling and draining, the world’s largest aquifer is drying up.
The Ogallala is the primary source of water for western Kansas farms, ranches and some communities, but projections indicate several areas that will go dry within 25 to 50 years at current usage rates. Some regions in Haskell County may have a decade or less…
The Ogallala Aquifer Summit was organized by Colorado State University’s Ogallala Water CAP Program — a coordinated agriculture project funded by the United States Department of Agriculture – National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The summit brought together scientists, government agents and producers from the eight states situated over the Ogallala to discuss shared challenges and current initiatives to preserve the aquifer.
Conversations between states had a rocky start, partly because they were spurred out of litigation regarding the Republican River basin along the Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas borders. The conflict led to monthly meetings of the Republican River Compact Administration — comprised of one member from each state — to change the approach and improve water management.
“No offense to those that are here, but I’m just excited to come to an interstate water conference that doesn’t have more lawyers than it does farmers and ranchers,” Kansas Secretary of Agriculture Jackie McClaskey said to applause from the summit crowd.
Nebraska Natural Resources Program Director Jesse Bradley and Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture Don Brown joined McClaskey for the first panel of the summit, discussing the cultivation of interstate conversations.
Brown joked that the whole problem was Nebraska’s fault — Nebraska native Frank Zybach invented center pivot irrigation while living in Colorado — and Bradley fired back that ‘you always blame the upstream state.’
She credits interstate conversations regarding the Republican River as a critical factor for changing the tone of the discussion. Instead of fighting over the water, the group is now working together to preserve water.
“The biggest way we learned this lesson is from the complete 180 we’ve done on the Republican River discussions,” McClaskey said. “In July 2014, we started meeting month-to-month and created a true, long-term agreement, and are using those lessons to expand to all the states.
“Now, I would call my colleagues from Nebraska and Colorado friends, which may not seem like a big deal, but it’s a lot easier to solve a problem with a friend than with an enemy.”
The Platte River is formed in western Nebraska east of the city of North Platte, Nebraska by the confluence of the North Platte and the South Platte Rivers, which both arise from snowmelt in the eastern Rockies east of the Continental Divide. Map via Wikimedia.
The plan is to divert excess Platte water via canal, culvert and pipeline over the Platte-Republican divide near Smithfield in south-central Nebraska’s Gosper County and run it south into the Republican via Turkey Creek, the Omaha World-Herald reported.
The 25-mile-long stream is a tributary of the Republican starting about 3 miles west of Smithfield. It empties into the Republican between Edison and Oxford. The Republican River rises in Colorado and crosses southern Nebraska before flowing into Kansas.
The primary objective is to help ensure the state’s compliance with an interstate compact that allocates certain percentages of the Republican River’s flows to Nebraska, Kansas and Colorado, said John Thorburn, general manager of the Tri-Basin Natural Resources District in Holdrege. Although the states have been working in harmony on managing the river in recent years, disputes among the three have escalated to the U.S. Supreme Court.
After three years of active planning, project proponents submitted their initial permit paperwork to the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources last week.
Tri-Basin partnered with the Alma-based Lower Republican NRD to develop the $1.4 million to $1.9 million enterprise known as the Platte Republican Diversion Project. It would tap Platte water from a canal owned by the Holdrege-based Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District. The district stores North Platte River water in Lake McConaughy in western Nebraska and delivers it downstream and into canals for delivery to farmers to irrigate cropland.
“This is precedent-setting for Nebraska,” Thorburn said. “We’d be taking otherwise ‘wasted’ water to be put to good use for a beneficial purpose.”
Thorburn and others expect resistance from environmental organizations that have raised concerns, saying there really isn’t extra water in the Platte and that it’s all precious in providing habitat for endangered bird species, including the whooping crane, piping plover and least tern.
The Platte’s floodwater — the excess flows that would be diverted at times — scrubs trees and other vegetation from sand bars and other important habitat for sandhill cranes. Downstream near Lincoln and Omaha, the river replenishes aquifers and well fields providing drinking water to the state’s two largest cities.
The diversion would not occur during the June-through-August irrigation season, Thorburn said.
The potential economic impact of the project in the Republican basin would range from $14.2 million to $33 million, depending on how much of the water required to meet interstate agreements and obligations comes from the diversion versus other sources, according to a study by the Bureau of Business Research at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
The Platte in central Nebraska is designated by the Natural Resources Department as over appropriated, meaning there is more demand for the water than the river can provide. It is the state’s only over appropriated river. Still, there are times when floods funnel high water down the river’s usually shallow channels.
An engineering study by Olsson Associates of Lincoln for the project partners indicated that under two scenarios a potential 57,000 to nearly 140,000 acre-feet of unallocated water could have been diverted from the Platte into the Republican during the period of 2013 to 2016. An acre-foot is the volume of water that would cover an acre of land 12 inches deep.
The peak scenario would require 100 cubic feet per second of water to flow down Turkey Creek at times. A cubic foot is like a box of water measuring one foot by one foot by one foot. It contains around 7½ gallons. This rate of flow is a bit less than the volume of water Omahans see in Big Papillion Creek at Q Street in a typical March.
Turkey Creek’s current base flow is about 12 cubic feet per second. Erosion-control measures and other improvements would allow the creek to handle diverted flows up to 100 cubic feet per second without damaging the surrounding land in Gosper and Furnas Counties, according to the engineering study. The draft application calls for diverting 275 cubic feet per second from the Platte in order to provide up to 100 cubic feet per second into Turkey Creek.
From the Associated Press (Grant Schulte) via The Colorado Springs Gazette:
The settlement announced Thursday requires Colorado to make the payment by Dec. 31, 2018. Colorado officials did not admit to violating the Republican River Compact, and legislators in that state must still approve the funding.
The agreement seeks to resolve disagreements between the states over Colorado’s past use of water. The Nebraska governor’s office says it will allow both states to continue to work cooperatively.
The settlement bars Nebraska from suing Colorado for alleged violations on or before Dec. 31, 2013.
It was signed by Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts and Attorney General Doug Peterson as well as Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Attorney General Cynthia Coffman.
Subject to approval by the two states’ legislatures, the payment is due by Dec. 31, with the money earmarked for surface water projects that will bolster water management plans in the basin, Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman said in a statement.
“This settlement provides funds that could be used in the Republican River Basin within Nebraska and creates additional opportunities for cooperative water management between the states,” Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper said.
Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts echoed the sentiment of cooperation: “Nebraska and Colorado can now continue to focus on providing their water users with greater certainty and to pursue other collaborative opportunities to benefit their shared economies.”
The 452-mile-long Republican River originates in the high plains of Colorado and cuts across sections of western Nebraska and Kansas. The Republican River Compact of 1943 allocates river water for the three states, with 49 percent going to Nebraska, 40 percent to Kansas and 11 percent to Colorado.
The river basin has been a frequent subject of litigation, including a 2014 Supreme Court judgment that ordered Nebraska to pay $5.5 million to Kansas for its own excessive water use upriver.
Colorado officials said the threat of more litigation and its associated costs was a driver in the new settlement. Coffman said the agreement “avoids the costs and uncertainty of litigation and furthers the principles of the compact.”
The region has been relatively free of major drought in recent years, which has helped states stay in compliance despite exponential growth in the number of irrigation wells. According to the United States Drought Monitor, the Republican River Basin region is drought-free or abnormally dry, the least severe drought rating.
But the threat of drought and overuse of groundwater has kept agriculture officials and farmers on edge for years. Nebraska farmers have been suing the state over groundwater for years, in what has become a near-annual tradition.
Steve Nelson, the president of Nebraska Farm Bureau, welcomed the new agreement.
“We applaud the collaborative efforts of both states to address past issues and to work together, putting both parties’ interests on a better path for shared water use,” Nelson said.
Western water law, immensely complicated by decades of litigation in multistate jurisdictions, is further complicated by “use it or lose it” allocations that often discourage conservation.
The Republican River Water Conservation District’s “compact compliance pipeline” continues to pump ground water into the North Fork of the Republican River near the Colorado/Nebraska state line.
The pipeline first started operating for compact compliance in January 2014. It is part of Colorado’s effort to come into compliance with the Republican River Compact, a 1942 agreement among the states of Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas, concerning water rights along the Republican River.
A stipulated agreement among the three states requires Colorado to send a minimum of 4,000 acre-feet through the pipeline each year. The Republican River Compact Administration groundwater model approved by the three states is used each year to analyze and determine how much more water above the minimum needs to be delivered each year.
Approximately 11,000 acre-feet was delivered into the North Fork in 2017.
The final portion for 2017 was delivered from October through December after the irrigation season was completed.
The pipeline continues to operate as Colorado delivers the 4,000 acre-feet minimum prior to the upcoming growing season.
RRWCD General Manager Deb Daniel said the estimate of how much above the minimum will need to be delivered in 2018 will not be made until September.
Various factors figure into how many acre feet need to be delivered each year — such as the amount of groundwater pumping throughout the Republican River Basin with the amount of precipitation and where it falls within the basin. The more rainfall in Colorado’s portion of the basin can actually increase the state’s obligation to the downstream states.
Daniel noted the state has not had any problems meeting its obligations using the pipeline. Water for the pipeline comes from a series of wells located north of Laird that were purchased by the RRWCD as part of the pipeline project.The appropriation for all of the water rights has been designated to 15 wells within the pipeline project. Currently eight wells are connected and delivering water into the pipeline. In the near future, as the need to off-set depletions and deliver additional water increases, the remaining seven wells will be added to the pipeline system.